Helping Others Navigate out of Homelessness: Denise’s Story

Denise found herself homeless in 2006 when she was evicted for not paying the rent—she had used her money for drugs and alcohol, instead.  Over the course of the next six years, Denise struggled.  She lived in friends’ homes, emergency shelters, treatment centers, and sober housing. Unfortunately, she did not maintain her sobriety and was taken to detox on more than one occasion.  Again, she lost her housing.

Denise went to the Salvation Army, determined to get back on her feet. She got a full-time job as a telemarketer. Every day she would bring all of her belongings to work in bags and stick them under her desk. So as not to appear homeless, she pretended that she was planning to work out in the evenings and had brought her gear.  She would go back to the Salvation Army night after night.  This daily routine became stressful and Denise began drinking again.

Denise came to House of Charity on November 1, 2012.  She is moving into her own apartment at the end of March through our Housing First program.  Denise credits her case manager for helping her find housing.  She feared that her past would prevent anyone from renting to her.  In 2001, Denise was charged with a felony for driving under the influence, and was sentenced to house arrest and work release.  Although the felony was reduced to a misdemeanor three years later, Denise was afraid that landlords would not accept her once they did a background check. Denise’s case manager, Erin, made her feel that her obstacles were not insurmountable.  Denise was upfront with the landlords about what they would find in her background report and explained the circumstances.  Denise believes Erin did an amazing job as her case manager, but she stresses that you have to be proactive as a client, as well.

Denise completed treatment through House of Charity’s Day by Day program.  She trusted her counselor, Sarah, and found her very caring.  She provided the guidance Denise needed.  Now, Denise feels that she has put together a strong support system and a solid plan to help keep herself from relapsing.

Denise believes that her faith is the only reason she is here today.  In addition to staff at House of Charity, her support system includes three spiritual mentors, a group of friends she made through a drop-in women’s group at Central Lutheran Church, and a Christian Twelve Step program.

Her plan includes staying busy.  She currently sits on the Catholic Charities Opportunity Center Advisory Council and volunteers there twice a week as a “system navigator.”  When she was first homeless, Denise did not know where to turn.  Now, she has a passion for wanting to help people who are in the same situation.  She knows the value of taking one step at a time and identifying small attainable goals that can get you where you want to go.  One of Denise’s goals is to write and produce her own plays for a faith-based recovery theater.  To cope with growing up in a challenging home environment, Denise became the funny girl.  She defaulted to humor and she always wanted to act.

Denise attended William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri, and holds a BFA in Fine Arts. She spent her senior year in New York City studying and working for a talent agency. Following school, she acted in improvisational theater, including a murder mystery dinner theater for 10 years. She eventually became its director of operations. Denise feels like she is becoming de-mummified – unraveling to uncover the woman God intended her to be. She is firm in knowing that, now, she needs to take care of herself. She needs to forgive herself and not dwell on her past. Her advice to others is to recognize that life is full of choices and sometimes we make choices out of fear. She has learned that you have to face the fear. To conquer it, perhaps you have to believe in something bigger than yourself. At the end of the day, it’s not how you fall down that defines you, it’s how you get up. One of the best compliments Denise has received is when someone told her, “No matter what happens to you, you get up and dust yourself off!”

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